Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium


This compendium includes significant criminal cases by the U.S. Supreme Court & N.C. appellate courts, Nov. 2008 – Present. Selected 4th Circuit cases also are included.

Jessica Smith prepared case summaries Nov. 2008-June 4, 2019; later summaries are prepared by other School staff.


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E.g., 06/27/2024
E.g., 06/27/2024

The trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying counsel’s motion to withdraw. The defendant was indicted for first-degree murder and armed robbery. Just prior to trial, the defendant provided defense counsel with a list of facts that he wished to concede to the jury: that he was at the scene of the crime; that he fired a gun; and that he was part of an attempted robbery. At a closed hearing, counsel advised the trial court that the defendant’s new admissions would impact his ability to handle the case. When he contacted the State Bar for guidance, it was suggested that he ask to withdraw because of a “personal conflict.” Counsel did so and the trial court denied the motion. Finding no abuse of discretion, the court noted that the personal conflict at issue related to counsel’s inability to believe what the defendant told him, in light of the eve of trial admissions. It noted:

As the State Bar confirmed, defense counsel did not have an actual conflict, and there is no evidence he breached the rules of professional conduct. Counsel had represented Defendant for nearly three years, and had presumably expended significant time and resources preparing for trial. In addition, there was no disagreement about trial strategy, nor was there an identifiable conflict of interest.

Moreover, the court concluded, the defendant could not show prejudice resulting from the denial of the motion to withdraw.

(1) Because the defendant had ample time to investigate, prepare, and present his defense and had failed to show that he received ineffective assistance of counsel by the trial court’s denial of his motion to continue, the trial court did not err by denying defense counsel’s motion to withdraw on this ground. (2) With respect to the defendant’s assertion that the trial court’s denial of the motion to withdraw resulted in him receiving ineffective assistance of counsel in other respects, the court found the record insufficient address the ineffectiveness issues and dismissed these grounds without prejudice to the defendant’s right to assert them in a motion for appropriate relief. 

(1) Where appointed counsel moved, on the sixth day of a bribery trial, for mandatory withdrawal pursuant to Rule 1.16(a) of the N.C. Rules of Professional Conduct, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing withdrawal upon counsel’s citation of Comment 3 to Rule 1.16 as grounds for withdrawal. Comment 3 states in relevant part:

Difficulty may be encountered if withdrawal is based on the client’s demand that the lawyer engage in unprofessional conduct. The court may request an explanation for the withdrawal, while the lawyer may be bound to keep confidential the facts that would constitute such an explanation. The lawyer’s statement that professional considerations require termination of the representation ordinarily should be accepted as sufficient.

In light of the Comment, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by accepting counsel’s assertion that his withdrawal was mandatory in light of professional considerations. (2) After allowing the withdrawal, the trial court was not required to appoint substitute counsel. Under G.S. 7A-450(b), appointment of substitute counsel at the request of either an indigent defendant or original counsel is constitutionally required only when it appears that representation by original counsel could deprive the defendant of his or her right to effective assistance. The statute also provides that substitute counsel is required and must be appointed when the defendant shows good cause, such as a conflict of interest or a complete breakdown in communications. Here, counsel’s representation did not fail to afford the defendant his constitutional right to counsel nor did the defendant show good cause for the appointment of substitute counsel. Nothing in the record suggests a complete breakdown in communications or a conflict of interest. Indeed, the court noted, “there was no indication that [counsel]’s work was in any way deficient. Rather, [his] withdrawal was caused by [defendant] himself demanding that [counsel] engage in unprofessional conduct. 

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